Hello! Project Idols on Various Shows

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Three straight blog entries without a single mention of Hello! Project? Can’t let that continue, now can we?

I find myself watching untranslated Japanese TV shows with increasing frequency. A lot of it has to do with W, but… Okay, no buts. A lot of it has to do with W.

First up is the February 26 episode of GIRLS POP LIVE 2005, featuring W learning magic tricks and Matsuura Aya learning how to throw darts. The show is apparently hosted by two homeless women, one of whom appears mentally disturbed. The magician who came to dazzle W and Misono (from Day After Tomorrow – and the sister of Koda Kumi, I just learned) was also kind of disturbing, with a magic-markered mustache that W would recreate on their own faces when they did their tricks. On a different segment, Ayaya was taught by a professional dart player how to throw darts, and the mentally disturbed homeless host apparently made some kind of wager with Ayaya about hitting the bullseye. Ayaya didn’t win, but she looked great throwing darts.

Both W and Ayaya performed their latest singles on the show, though I must confess I’m not partial to either of them. W’s been fairly consistent up to now, so “Koi no Fugue” is hopefully just a blip. Ayaya, however, has been doing slow songs and ballads almost exclusively for the past year or so – “Kiseki no Kaori Dance” was her last upbeat single at the start of 2004. Apparently, she’s trying to project a more mature image, which apparently means her zanier, more energetic side is only coming out in the numerous CMs she does. She’s got a truly beautiful voice – especially compared to most of the other H!P idols – but that doesn’t mean she needs to avoid lighter, more upbeat numbers.

And now that I know Misono and Koda Kumi are related, I’m actually interested in finding out what Day After Tomorrow sounds like.

Another show with W was the March 2 special episode of Ai no Apron. The premise of the show is a cooking contest with people who have little or no cooking experience. As members of Morning Musume, I know Tsuji and Kago have both had at least some cooking experience, though not considerable (and most likely supervised). There were three other contestants, and one of the judges was Hawaiian sumo wrestler Konishiki – who was dressed very stylishly, I must add. It was fun television, the actual cooking had some comedic value (one woman tore the head of a fish off with her hands instead of chopping it) but lacked the urgent drama of Iron Chef. What was more enjoyable was when the food was served up. Making judges taste badly cooked food – and, when it was really bad, forcing the contestants to taste the results as well – was funny, requiring little translation to understand. In the end, Tsuji fared well enough while Kago didn’t do well at all and apparently apologized to her mother for this.

Last but by no means least, I was able to watch last Sunday’s Hello! Morning – the weekly show hosted by the Hello! Project idols – and the recently revamped format was wonderful. The best thing about the new Haromoni is that it’s no longer so doggedly Morning Musume-centric: in this episode, all the former members of Morning Musume who were still part of H!P were on the show. In the past, there’ve been regular roles for some of the graduates: Nakazawa Yuko hosted long after graduating from Momusu and continued with H!P News, while Natsumi Abe continued hosting after graduating last year (up until the plagiarism scandal that sent her into exile in recent months – as a matter of fact, this episode marked her return to the show). Just about all of the most popular members of Momusu are now solo artists (Goto Maki, Natsumi Abe) or part of W. The numbers are evening out as well, with eleven current Momusu and seven graduates in this episode.

The next step is to bring in the rest of the H!P artists – at least on a rotating basis. Matsuura Aya – the bigges star in the roster right now – has had short segments devoted to her CMs. But there’s Melon Kinenbi, Viyuden, Berryz Koubou, Country Musume, Ayaka, Maeda Yuki – they all deserve some face time on the show, and not just to perform their latest singles.

The focus for this week’s episode was a human kanji game – which reminds me of Tunnels’ kanji pegboard (Tunnels is a comedy duo, one of whom is Utaban host Takaaki Ishibashi) – where people twist their bodies around to form kanji that one person has to guess. A great deal of fun, mildly suggestive if that’s what you’re looking for (I wasn’t, really), and it’s always interesting to see how intensely competitive the idols can get. There’s such an emphasis on the girls having fun and being juvenile whenever they do TV shows, it’s only when you see them in competitions that you remember how much drive and focus it takes to become an idol on the level these girls achieved. The harmless personalities the girls often project hides the fact that they had to do a great deal of competing, practicing, and deal-making to get where they are now. Much of it ties into their managers and the Up Front Agency (which takes care of all Hello! Project talent), of course, but (for example) if Konno Asami was truly the lost, clumsy soul we see on various skits and interviews, there’s no way she’d have lasted as long as she has. So watching the girls get worked up over a silly kanji game is a mild reminder of how tough a life they lead and how hungry they are for fortune and glory.

And that’s actually part of the reason why I think W is built to last – at least for the next couple years. Tsuji and Kago have such chemistry together that TV shows love to have them appear. They’re fearless about doing silly things and forthcoming in the manner of many confident teenage girls. Whether it’s dressing up in dinosaur outfits or performing circus acts or cooking badly or raiding Samma-san’s refrigerator, the girls seem perfectly comfortable and project the right mix of wholesomeness and mischief. Granted, they’re not quite balanced out on the kawaii-kakoi scale, but that may be a matter of time… or strategic marketing.